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1 May 2006
Late Bronze Age in Aegean a century older

Radiocarbon dating pushes some events in the middle of the second millennium BCE 100 years back into the past, possibly revising history in the Aegean Sea area near Greece and Turkey, a study in the journal Science said. The findings concern a critical time for development of Late Bronze Age cultures in the Aegean, Cyprus, Anatolia and others and may change how cultural relations are viewed in the period, said Stuart Manning, a Cornell University professor of classics. One of the world's largest volcanic eruptions also occurred on Santorini during that time, turning it from an Aegean isle into an outer rim of islands and affecting climate as far away as Ireland and California, according to evidence cited in the study. Santorini is part of Greece.
     Vulcanologists believe the explosion generated violent tsunamis that destroyed Crete's ports, threw thousands of tons of ash and pumice into the atmosphere and created a "nuclear winter" that led to successive crop failures in the region. Scientists have detected ash from the explosion as far away as Greenland, the Black Sea and Egypt. They have also discovered signs of frost damage caused by the volcano on preserved plant material excavated in Ireland and California.
     A separate study in Science placed the Santorini explosion at 1627 to 1600 BCE instead of late 1500 BCE, using the branch of an olive tree on the island "killed by the eruption and covered by 14 inches of brimstone," said Jan Heinemeier, director of the AMS C14 Dating Centre at the University of Aarhus in Denmark. "We have for the first time a very precise and direct date for the Minoan eruption," said lead investigator Walter Freidrich, associate professor of geology at the University of Aarhus.
     The Aegean Late Bronze Age traditionally includes the height of New Palace civilization on Crete, new coastal policies on Cyprus and the Shaft Grave period on Greece's mainland, the researchers of the first study wrote. The investigators tested a large database of 100 new samples including seeds and wood spanning several centuries and performed a sophisticated statistical analysis, Manning said. Radiocarbon dating hasn't been precise enough until recent years to prove such a point, he said. The study's date for the eruption was in a range of about 1660 to 1613 BCE, the researchers said.
     People studying the Late Bronze Age period traditionally have based their chronologies on the examination of ceramics and other ancient artifacts and by comparing them to similar items from Egypt, Manning said. Those dates are inconsistent with the new findings, the researchers said. The new timeline places a number of events before about 1600 BCE, including the formation and high point of the New Palace period on Crete, the Shaft Grave period on the Greek mainland, and the Middle to late Cypriot period on Cyprus, the scientists said.

Sources: Bloomberg.com (27 April 2006), The Independent, News.telegraph (28 April 2006)

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